Friday, January 25, 2013

Transition in Harlem


Today was a day of transition in Harlem: it was Judge Ruben Martino's final day on the bench at the Harlem Community Justice Center.  Next week, he begins work in the Bronx Family Court -- and Harlem will welcome a new judge to 121st Street.  

When I went to say goodbye to him in his office full of moving boxes, I was struck by the fact that Judge Martino somehow seems younger and more energetic than when I first met him nearly a decade ago.   We talked for awhile about our joint struggle to figure out a problem-solving approach to housing cases, so many of which involve tenants struggling with poverty.  

While we have yet to discover a magic intervention to help cure poverty, Judge Martino did end up figuring out a way to make a difference in landlord-tenant disputes.  He was incredibly disciplined about communicating clearly and respectfully to litigants.  And his efforts made a difference: the research suggests that litigants without lawyers at Harlem were more likely to view their court experience positively than similar litigants whose cases were handled in a conventional court.  In a variety of contexts -- not just housing cases, but drug cases and misdemeanor cases and cases involving mentally-ill defendants -- we keep coming to the same realization: how you treat people matters enormously.  This isn't just a question of making people, whether they be defendants or litigants or parolees, feel better -- I think our experience is that you actually get better outcomes this way.

But I digress.  My real point in writing was to offer a few final words in praise of Judge Martino.  He made an enormous contribution to the success of the Harlem Community Justice Center and I have little doubt he will do the same in Bronx Family Court.   We will miss him.